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For beginners, it can seem like a good idea (and an exciting prospect) to buy a company that tells a good story to investors, even if it completely lacks a track record of revenue and profit. But as Warren Buffett has mused, 'If you've been playing poker for half an hour and you still don't know who the patsy is, you're the patsy.' When they buy such story stocks, investors are all too often the patsy.
In the age of tech-stock blue-sky investing, my choice may seem old fashioned; I still prefer profitable companies like Five Below (NASDAQ:FIVE). Even if the shares are fully valued today, most capitalists would recognize its profits as the demonstration of steady value generation. Conversely, a loss-making company is yet to prove itself with profit, and eventually the sweet milk of external capital may run sour.
Five Below's Earnings Per Share Are Growing.
As one of my mentors once told me, share price follows earnings per share (EPS). That makes EPS growth an attractive quality for any company. As a tree reaches steadily for the sky, Five Below's EPS has grown 36% each year, compound, over three years. As a general rule, we'd say that if a company can keep up that sort of growth, shareholders will be smiling.
I like to see top-line growth as an indication that growth is sustainable, and I look for a high earnings before interest and taxation (EBIT) margin to point to a competitive moat (though some companies with low margins also have moats). While we note Five Below's EBIT margins were flat over the last year, revenue grew by a solid 21% to US$1.6b. That's a real positive.
In the chart below, you can see how the company has grown earnings, and revenue, over time. For finer detail, click on the image.
You don't drive with your eyes on the rear-view mirror, so you might be more interested in this free report showing analyst forecasts for Five Below's future profits.
Are Five Below Insiders Aligned With All Shareholders?
We would not expect to see insiders owning a large percentage of a US$6.7b company like Five Below. But we do take comfort from the fact that they are investors in the company. Indeed, they have a glittering mountain of wealth invested in it, currently valued at US$148m. This suggests to me that leadership will be very mindful of shareholders' interests when making decisions!
It means a lot to see insiders invested in the business, but I find myself wondering if remuneration policies are shareholder friendly. A brief analysis of the CEO compensation suggests they are. For companies with market capitalizations between US$4.0b and US$12b, like Five Below, the median CEO pay is around US$6.9m.
The Five Below CEO received US$5.5m in compensation for the year ending February 2019. That seems pretty reasonable, especially given its below the median for similar sized companies. While the level of CEO compensation isn't a huge factor in my view of the company, modest remuneration is a positive, because it suggests that the board keeps shareholder interests in mind. It can also be a sign of a culture of integrity, in a broader sense.
Does Five Below Deserve A Spot On Your Watchlist?
Given my belief that share price follows earnings per share you can easily imagine how I feel about Five Below's strong EPS growth. If that's not enough, consider also that the CEO pay is quite reasonable, and insiders are well-invested alongside other shareholders. This may only be a fast rundown, but the takeaway for me is that Five Below is worth keeping an eye on. Of course, just because Five Below is growing does not mean it is undervalued. If you're wondering about the valuation, check out this gauge of its price-to-earnings ratio, as compared to its industry.
Of course, you can do well (sometimes) buying stocks that are not growing earnings and do not have insiders buying shares. But as a growth investor I always like to check out companies that do have those features. You can access a free list of them here.
Please note the insider transactions discussed in this article refer to reportable transactions in the relevant jurisdiction
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